Inflammation and stories on UNHCR

Child Poverty in EritreaMilitarism and instability are endemic to Eritrea. The degradation of civil society is a result of those two factors. Child poverty in Eritrea is rampant due to such foundations; however, the country is not without benefactors. UNICEF’s aid efforts are improving children’s health within Eritrea despite the current conditions.

A Brief History

Eritrea is one of the few countries that can truly be considered a fledgling state in the 21st century. After a decades-long secession war, the Eritrean government achieved full independence from Ethiopia in 1993. They solidified the totalitarian one-party dictatorship that has retained power since. A brief period of peace followed, during which promised democratic elections never materialized. Then, Eritrea’s unresolved border disputes with Ethiopia escalated into a war that lasted from 1998 to 2000. It killed tens of thousands and resulted in several minor border changes and only formally ended in 2018. In the wake of this war, the Eritrean government has sustained a track record of militarization, corruption and human rights violations that has continually degraded civil stability. As of 2004, around 50% of Eritreans live below the poverty line.

Eritrea’s Youth at a Glance

Housing around 6 million people, Eritrea’s youth make up a significant proportion of its population. Eritrea has the 35th highest total fertility rate globally, with a mean of 3.73 children born per woman. It also has the 42nd lowest life expectancy at birth at a mere 66.2 years, with significant variation between that of males (63.6 years) and females (68.8 years).

Forced Conscriptions of Children

Under the guise of national security against Ethiopia, Eritrea has maintained a system of universal, compulsory conscription since 2003. This policy requires all high school students to complete their final year of high school at Sawa, the country’s primary military training center. Many are 16 or 17 years of age when their conscription begins, which led the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to accuse Eritrea of mobilizing child soldiers.

The Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report also blamed Eritrea’s conscription practices for a number of grievances. Its prolonged militarization has wide-reaching effects for the country. Many adults are held in service against their will for up to a decade, but it is particularly damaging to Eritrean youth. Students at Sawa face food shortages, forced labor and harsh punishment. Many female students have reportedly suffered sexual abuse. Besides fleeing, “Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription.”

Further, “The system of conscription has driven thousands of young Eritreans each year into exile,” HRW claims. They estimate that around 507,300 Eritreans live elsewhere. Because of its conscription practices, Eritrea is both a top producer of refugees and unaccompanied refugee children in Europe – they not only result in child poverty in Eritrea, but in other regions as well.

Education Access

HRW claims that Eritrea’s education system plays a central role in its high levels of militarization. It leads many students to drop out, intentionally fail classes or flee the country. This has severely undermined education access and inflated child poverty in Eritrea.

Eritrea currently has the lowest school life expectancy – “the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive” – of any country. Eritrea has reportedly made strides to raise enrollment over the last 20 years. However, 27.2% of school-aged children still do not receive schooling, and the country retains a literacy rate of only 76.6%. Illiteracy is much more prevalent among females than among males, with respective literacy rates of 68.9% and 84.4%. In general, girls and children in nomadic populations are the least likely to receive schooling.

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

As mentioned earlier, over half a million Eritreans have fled the country as refugees. Around one-third of them – about 170,000, according to the WHO – now live in Ethiopia. A majority reside in six different refugee camps. As of 2019, around 6,000 more cross the border each month. Reporting by the UNHCR shows that “children account for 44% of the total refugee population residing in the [Eritrean] Camps, of whom 27% arrive unaccompanied or separated from their families.” Far from being ameliorated by domestic education programs, child poverty in Eritrea is merely being outsourced to its neighbors.

Children’s Health as a Site for Progress

Adjacent to these issues, UNICEF’s programs have driven significant improvements in sanitation, malnutrition and medical access. Its Health and Nutrition programs, among other things, address malnutrition by administering supplements, prevent maternal transmission of HIV/AIDS during birth and administer vaccines. Teams in other departments improve sanitation and lobby against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.

In its 2015 Humanitarian Action for Children report on Eritrea, UNICEF wrote that Eritrea “has made spectacular progress on half the [Millennium Development Goals],” including “Goal 4 (child mortality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality), Goal 6 (HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases) and is on track to meet the target for access to safe drinking water (Goal 7).”

Figures illustrate this progress on child poverty in Eritrea. Since 1991, child immunization rates have jumped from 14% to 98%, safe water access rates are up at 60% from 7%, iodine deficiency has plummeted from 80% to 20% in children and the under-five mortality rate sits at 63 deaths per 1000 births, rather than at 148.

Child poverty in Eritrea is a far cry from being solved, but it is not a lost cause.

Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Malaysian RefugeesAlthough the majority of Malaysian refugees reside in or near the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, thousands live outside this area and struggle to access urban centers for crucial services. As a result, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has opened its first outreach and community center outside Kuala Lumpur.

Refugees In Malaysia

Nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR across Malaysia. Currently, refugee community groups estimate that tens of thousands more reside in the country undocumented. Rohingya Muslims make up the majority of Malaysia’s refugee population. Malaysia currently hosts the largest number of Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Other refugee populations originate from countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Rising Hostility

Although initially supportive of refugees and asylum seekers, Malaysia has become increasingly hostile towards these vulnerable populations. For example, the country is not a signatory to the 1953 UN Refugee Convention. This means it does not recognize the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers. Classified as illegal immigrants, refugees in Malaysia risk arrest, detention, and deportation. Xenophobia towards foreigners has risen in recent years. Many now view Rohingya refugees as a threat to the nation’s social, economic, and security systems.

Malaysia’s refugee populations are especially vulnerable to aggressive crackdowns on immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysian authorities have increased immigration arrests in refugee and migrant neighborhoods and turned away nearly 30 boats of displaced Rohingyas since the virus began. Human rights groups warn that the virus could spread through the country’s overloaded immigration detention centers, and reduce the likelihood of refugees seeking coronavirus treatment. The Malaysian government’s COVID-19 relief package excludes refugees despite their need for food and essential services.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre

As there are no refugee camps in Malaysia, most settle into urban areas of the greater Klang Valley Region including Kuala Lumpur. However, thousands of refugees live outside this region and struggle to access urban UNHCR centers. These refugees have to travel long distances just to access crucial services. UNHCR is working to make essential services accessible to refugee communities living outside Kuala Lumpur through the establishment of outreach and community care centers. The refugee agency has recently opened a model outreach center in Johor, a southern state near Kuala Lumpur, and plans to develop more centers across Malaysia in the coming years.

The Johor Outreach and Community Centre (JOCC) will make essential services accessible to over 16,000 refugees in Southern Malaysia. This will save these vulnerable communities over three and a half hours of travel time and excessive bus fare costs. Moreover, the outreach center is life-changing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it will bring vital services to Johor’s refugee population while preventing the movement of people and gathering of crowds in urban areas.

The JOCC will be managed by Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB), a partner of the UNHCR. Since 2013, the Malaysian-based NGO has provided community-based support to Johor’s refugee community. CSB works to ensure the education of refugee children in Johor and develop resilient communities through the establishment of schools, refugee empowerment programs, health services and outreach initiatives like food distributions. The JOCC will help CSB strengthen its existing community-led initiatives and provide a safe space for refugees throughout the state.

The Importance of UNHCR Documentation Services

Outreach and community centers provide critical UNHCR registration and renewal services to Malaysia’s refugee populations. Registering with the UNHCR provides refugees claims of asylum and identification as “Persons of Concern”. UNHCR cards demonstrate official identity and refugee status and are usually respected by Malaysian authorities, protecting refugees from illegal immigration arrests. In addition, UNHCR cards incentivize businesses to employ refugees in the informal economic sector and reduce the foreigner’s fare at public hospitals. Refugees are deemed illegal immigrants with no rights if their UNHCR card is not updated every five years. The JOCC will make UNHCR registration and renewal services more accessible and prevent card expirations from upheaving the lives of Johor’s refugee community. The center will also provide accurate, up to date information on refugee protection in Malaysia, as well as available services.

Looking Ahead

The JOCC is a symbol of hope for refugee populations outside Malaysia’s urban areas. Expanding UNHCR outreach and community centers across the country will give refugees greater access to documentation and essential services. Therefore, this is a vital step in enabling them to contribute to society and rebuild their lives.

Claire Brenner

Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis in DjiboutiTuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In addition to airborne spread, TB can be transmitted through unpasteurized milk contaminated with Mycobacterium bovis. This infection attacks the respiratory system, but in extreme cases, it can impact the central nervous system, bones, joints, lymphatic system and urogenital area. It’s a disease that is endemic in Djibouti, a country in eastern Africa. 

Infection Rates and Spending Levels

From 2000 to 2018, there were two peak levels of tuberculosis in Djibouti — one in 2001, and the other in 2010. In these years, Djibouti hit 716 cases of TB per 100,000 people and 621 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. As of 2018, TB rates were the lowest they had been in since 2000, at only 260 cases per 100,000 people. That being said, TB has remained the number four cause of death in Djibouti since 2007.

Despite the fact that deaths have increased, health data analyzers seem optimistic that the incidence of TB will decline as more funding goes toward health in Djibouti. In 2016, only $66 was spent per person on health. By 2050, experts predict that spending will rise to $87 per person. This increase will largely come from expanded development assistance and a rise in government spending on health — predicted to jump from $35 per person in 2016 to $48 in 2050. With more money being put into the health of citizens, it will be easier to get and keep people healthy. If someone does contract TB, there will be more money allotted for their treatment. Increased health funding will also allow for more community outreach and education around the spread and treatment of TB. If someone contracts TB and cannot get to a medical facility, they will at least have tools to keep themselves healthy and ensure that their case doesn’t spread. 

Refugees and Tuberculosis in Djibouti

Refugees account for nearly 3% of Djibouti’s population. Most refugees come from neighboring countries raging with war. Djibouti’s refugee camps are small, cramped and perfect breeding grounds for TB. While things may seem bleak, there is hope. The government in Djibouti is working with multiple NGOs to bring awareness and treatment to TB in refugee camps. UNDP has partnered with UNHCR and the Global Fund to address tuberculosis in Djibouti. So far, they have provided treatment for 850,000 TB patients, as well as 19,139 patients with drug-resistant TB. The work of NGOs has allowed families to stay with the sick during treatment, without fear of contracting the infection.

The goal of this partnership is to end TB in Djibouti by 2030 — an ambitious goal, but one that is potentially attainable as support and funding help to educate, treat and provide support for the people who need it. While treatment is important, however, these NGOs have also shown that community outreach programs aimed at teaching people how to avoid TB are just as vital in stopping the spread of the disease.

The tuberculosis crisis in Djibouti has been a lasting one. Thanks to recent investments by the government, new technologies to combat TB and organizations helping contain the refugee TB crisis, there is hope for the future of this country and its citizens.

Maya Buebel
Photo: Flickr

help refugeesJune 20 marked the 18th anniversary of world refugee day. There are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Of those millions, 25.4 million people are classified as refugees.

World Refugee Day holds a long history of support for those in need. This day is celebrated in order to give all an opportunity to help refugees and to create a public awareness for millions of lives that are in need of saving.

Since the beginning of World Refugee Day in 2000, the refugee crisis has increased greatly. Growing from 12 million in 2000 to more than 20 million in 2018, refugees can be found seeking shelter in many countries.

The United Nations

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has taken steps to fight the refugee crisis. The UNHCR provides assistance and support to refugees all over the world. Present in 128 countries and 478 locations around the world, the UNHCR is helping those wherever they can.

For example, in Ukraine, the UNHCR is working with the Ukrainian government to help strengthen the asylum system and gives medical, material and social assistance to those refugees and internally displaced people. In Ukraine, there are currently 1,800,000 people who are internally displaced and 3,253 refugees from other countries.

Along with working with the government and giving assistance to those in need, the UNHCR in Ukraine provided 843 homes with winter cash assistance in 2018.

Another recent effort presented by the UNHCR was their assistance in Montenegro. On April 3 the UNHCR paired with the Red Cross and opened the first Community Centre for persons seeking international protection.

Education

The UNHCR doesn’t only just provide physical materials and goods; they also are committed to bringing education to refugees all over the world.

By the end of 2016, the UNHCR had encouraged 64 out of 81 countries to put policies in place to support the inclusion of refugee children in the respective countries education system. After this push, more than 984,000 refugee children were enrolled in primary education.

Of that 984,000 refugee children, 250,000 were not attending school at the time.

How to Help

While the UNHCR is continually working to better the lives of refugees all over the world, there is still plenty of work that can be done on the individual level for refugees. Here are five ways that anyone can get involved no matter where they may be.

  1. Volunteer a skill: Having a specific skill or talent can be used for good to help refugees. Whether knowing how to budget extremely well or how to create a website, there are refugees in local communities who would appreciate learning a new talent or skill to help them with their future endeavors.
  2. Spread awareness: Hold fundraisers, raffles, yard sales or meetings to spread the word about the refugee crisis. There are some that may know there is a problem, but don’t know much more than that. By putting on events and spreading the word, education about this crisis will increase awareness.
  3. Call the House Representatives and the Senate: Calling local state representatives is a quick and easy way to let one’s voice be heard. Placing a call to a member of the House or Senate will let them know that this is an issue that you care about and want to address.
  4. Support business and organizations run by refugees: Moving to a new country and facing the economic challenges of that country can be one of the hardest things for refugees. Supporting their family can be difficult for refugees in a new country. Make an effort to buy from refugees to help them get started in a new place.
  5. Donate: Donating can be one of the easiest ways to help refugees in need. Donations can be for organizations that go out into the field and provide physical goods or they can be for organizations, like The Borgen Project, that push elected officials to support and pass laws to help those in need.

While the refugee crisis continues to grow, it is important to know that anyone can take part in getting laws passed to protect refugees or can offer kindness to those who are adjusting to drastic life changes.

– Victoria Fowler
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Humanitarian Aid

Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century, the global community has made a concentrated effort toward ending world poverty. Very often, Americans hear of the term “humanitarian aid” without a transparent knowledge of what that aid does or who and where it goes to. Below are nine interesting facts about humanitarian aid, including some of the origins of organized aid, countries and organizations that provide aid and the countries that benefit from humanitarian aid provisions.

Humanitarian Aid Facts

  1. One of the less well-known facts about humanitarian aid is that it is thought to have originated toward the tail end of the nineteenth century. The first global aid relief effort came about during the Great Northern Chinese Famine of 1876-79 that killed nearly 10 million of China’s rural population. British missionary Timothy Richard called attention to the famine and raised what is valued at $7-10 million today in an organized relief effort to end the famine.
  2. Modern western imagery of humanitarian aid came about during the 1983-1985 Ethiopian famine. BBC reporting from Michael Buerk showcased imagery of the “Biblical famine” that shocked the world.
  3. The publicity surrounding the Ethiopian famine led to a worldwide western effort to raise money and bring an end to the plight. Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof organized the Live Aid event that raised over €30 million and set the precedent for humanitarian aid fundraising events across the globe.
  4. Every year, the amount of humanitarian aid contributed by developed countries to places where aid is needed has increased. In 2017, the global community contributed $27.3 billion of foreign aid toward humanitarian relief efforts.
  5. According to Development Initiative, approximately 164 million individuals are in direct need of humanitarian aid. Those in the direst need of relief include the 65.6 million individuals displaced from their home countries and individuals that live in the world’s most dangerous countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Another interesting fact about humanitarian aid is that the largest humanitarian aid organization fighting world hunger is the World Food Programme (WFP). Each year, the WFP reaches about 90 million individuals in approximately 80 countries.
  7. Humanitarian aid is also donated in large quantities toward natural disaster relief. To illustrate, Red Cross relief efforts toward the tragic 2010 earthquake in Haiti raised approximately $488 million.
  8. In 2014, United States spent about $2.7 billion of its foreign aid budget on humanitarian aid. This money is mostly used to care for refugees who have been displaced from their home countries.
  9. One of the more serious facts about humanitarian aid is that relief workers have a tough and dangerous job. In 2017, over 150 employees were attacked while trying to conduct their work. However, many would argue that the risk is worth the lives that these individuals save.

Based on these facts about humanitarian aid, it is clear that global aid is vital to creating a global community of countries that care about one another. The global aid network creates a myriad of positive outcomes in global health, development and politics, truly saving the lives of many.

– Daniel Levy

Photo: Pixabay

The Four Key Components of United Nations Refugee Agency
Currently, more than 65.6 million of the world’s population has been forcibly displaced due to conflict, persecution or inhospitable living conditions within their home countries. A majority of these refugees end up in temporary refugee camps, awaiting relocation in both private and state-backed developments. Unfortunately, resources in resettlement countries tend to be limited in capacity to help the millions of displaced.

Policy of Hope and the United Nations Refugee Agency

Fortunately, the international community is making strong efforts to provide both on-the-ground and financial resources to the countries that house the greatest number of refugees. Many organizations see this policy of hope as a universal good, and deem it paramount to find new homes and lives for those who are displaced.

Organizations like the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) work tirelessly to ensure that those displaced have a global advocate looking out for them.

The organization operates on several different levels to assist refugees around the world and saves the lives of thousands who would otherwise be left without any critical survival resources. Several of the most impactful divisions within UNHCR are its protection, shelter, health and advocacy programs.

1. Protection

The protection program seeks to ensure the safety of individuals under the label of refugee. The United Nations Refugee Agency provides funding to security partners who offer legal and physical protection to refugees and minimize the threat of physical violence in refugee camps. The protection program also generates funding for law schools and government agencies to emphasize coursework and professional development in refugee protection.

2. Shelter

The shelter unit of the United Nations Refugee Agency distributes tents and plastic sheeting that are used to make simple shelters in refugee camps throughout the world. The shelter program also funds the rehabilitation of communal displacement shelters, the construction of brand new homes, and also provides materials for those who choose to build homes themselves under self-help schemes.

3. Healthcare

The United Nations Refugee Agency also has a healthcare provision program which assesses the basic health needs of those living in a refugee camp. On a more general scale, UNHCR provides communities with HIV protection, reproductive health services, food and water security, as well as sanitation and hygiene services.

If there is a specific disease that is particularly prevalent in the camp, the United Nations Refugee Agency assesses the situation and provides what is most necessary. For instance, to flee conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many settled in refugee camps in Uganda. Unfortunately, the Ugandan refugee camps were rampant with malaria. Accordingly, UNHCR provided over 40,000 malaria nets to the camps, protecting many.

The provision of these essentials greatly benefits the refugees living in the camps and helps to ensure that they have a greater chance of survival and relocation.

4. Advocacy

The United Nations Refugee Program advocates for policy changes as well. The UNHCR has specific policy guidelines and standards that it advocates governments adopt. Each year a team assesses how trends in refugee movement and aid shift and adjusts the standards to ensure that needs of the many are met most effectively.

Overall, the world refugee crisis is both an overwhelming and daunting issue. Despite the scale of the problem, organizations like the United Nations Refugee Agency will continue to work as long there are refugees who need its help.

– Daniel Levy

Photo: Flickr

Higher Education for RefugeesIn 2016, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its annual Global Report on the state of the world’s refugee crisis. Among other things, the report highlights a 6 percent rise in what it terms ‘populations of concern’ over the past year alone. That is a total increase of one million people.

Specifically, the global number of refugees — people who have been forced from their home countries due to war or other life-threatening occurrences — has risen by 6.7 million in just five years.

Imagine if nearly the entire population of Washington state was suddenly forced to leave, and depend entirely on their ability to convince a political body, over which they have no control, of the unequivocal necessity of their leaving home. The total number of people living this reality stands at 16.5 million.

What does this situation mean for college-aged adults? What access is there to higher education for refugees? According to UNHCR statistics on refugee education, the situation is bleak. Just 1 percent of all college-aged refugees are able to seek higher education, while the other 99 percent is left out.

However, there is one program that seems to have had a profoundly positive impact on thousands of college-aged refugees. The UNHCR’s Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund (DAFI).

DAFI was first implemented in 1992, and has continued to receive a majority of its funding from the government of Germany. Through the financing of higher education for refugees at approved universities, DAFI aims to:

  • Promote self-reliance and empowerment for sponsored students and their family
  • Help sponsored students to become adept community leaders capable of assisting their home countries
  • Provide the training necessary for scholarship recipients to work within refugee communities while awaiting repatriation
  • Facilitate host country integration for scholarship recipients and their families
  • Demonstrate to all, especially women and girls, the value of education

So, what does it take for a potential scholar to be granted a DAFI scholarship? First, students must be in what the UNHCR terms “developing countries or countries in transition”, as well as have been granted asylum from the country in which they will pursue their studies. Second, they must be under 28 years of age when their studies begin.

Additionally, as the program is intended to arm a generation with the necessary skills required to help rebuild their countries of origin, all students must decide on a course of study that will see them quickly employed upon repatriation.

As of 2015, 2,321 people were able to achieve their dream of attending university. This is a substantial increase from a total of just 4,774 scholars in the first 15 years of its operation.

For its relatively short history, it would seem that the program of higher education for refugees has been hugely successful. Indeed, one of its only critiques may be that it cannot reach more would-be college students faster.

Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr

Additional U.S. Aid for the Syrians Caught in the War

Syria has now been in conflict for six years, and it is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. Syria is in ruins, and people stuck in the war zone need humanitarian assistance. UNHCR is working 24/7 to help newly displaced people arriving daily to the Ein Issa camp, but almost 50,000 people are still trapped inside Raqqa. This is why additional U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the middle of the war is needed in the field and will help mitigate the impact of the war on the communities in the region.

The U.S. State Department announced that additional humanitarian aid will be provided to civilians stuck in the war zone. Almost $700 million will be provided, which raises the total amount of U.S. aid for Syrians to more than $7 billion since 2012.

This announcement shows the commitment of the American people and the U.S. government to support critical humanitarian needs. U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the war will provide food, clean water, shelter and medical care to the almost 14 million people in the country who need it.

According to the U.N., since 2011 almost 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives and 5 million have fled the country, while 6.3 million people are displaced inside the country. The crisis has no end for now, even with the news that ISIS is on its heels but will not surrender, preferring to fight to the death. Even with his allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is very limited in his rule, the Islamic State is losing ground and the country is exhausted from fighting. But still, the Syrian war drags on.

Aid for the Syrian people will be divided among the organizations and agencies assisting Syrian refugees in the country and elsewhere. Part of the funding will also go to Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, who are taking in some of the refugees.

The day before the announcement, there was a gathering of the world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Additional aid for the Syrians and the six-year-long conflict was a central part of the discussion, where the urgent need for safe passage for the humanitarian convoys was highlighted.

Additional U.S. aid for Syrians reflects the commitment of the government to help and ease the suffering of Syrians caught in the war, ultimately saving lives. This additional aid is also supporting the operations of the United Nations and other international and non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. government is making huge efforts to increase humanitarian assistance, but to meet emergency needs, other donors are crucial. Non-governmental organizations are often working in areas where U.N. agencies cannot, offering food assistance and meeting basic needs.

UNHCR Syria is the organization’s largest refugee assistance operation in the world. This organization provides assistance to the internally displaced, supporting refugees across the region. UNICEF implements child and youth protection and health programs and neighbors are also involved.

U.S. aid for Syrians trapped in the war zone is crucial, being the largest single donor to the humanitarian response. The U.S. provides critical relief supplies and protection for children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Due to a shortage of funds, non-government organizations are facing many challenges. The additional aid for Syrians in the war zone will bring them critical help, hope for a safe future and the message from the world that they are not alone and forgotten.

– Edita Jakupovic Delcaro

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in KenyaKalobeyei is a town located in the northwestern part of Kenya that was built by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) along with the local government of Turkana county. The town was designed as a location where refugees could become integrated with the local community and where this integration would benefit shared services and markets, thereby reducing the cost for Western aid donors. Unfortunately, this has not exactly worked out as planned for refugees in Kenya.

There have been quite a few issues that have risen since the town’s creation. The most prominent of these issues is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war greatly intensified, causing many refugees in Kenya to arrive with hardly anything more than the clothes on their backs, as well as without the proper resources that would help them make an attempt at a new life.

The World Food Programme provides $14 per month as a cash allowance to each refugee, which is supposed to cover up to 80 percent of an individual’s needs in the town. This may not be enough to live off of due to the current conditions these refugees are left in after the civil war, especially since Kalobeyei is hosting nearly 40,000 refugees, including individuals from places such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

There have also been many complaints from the refugees in Kenya who are currently residing in Kalobeyei. Refugees say that little to nothing that they were promised has been offered in the town. They have found themselves in an isolated camp where both food and water are in short supply and that residents are at the mercy of thievery that goes on within Kalobeyei. One resident of the town—an Ethiopian refugee—said, “When they brought us here, we were told that the place would be like a community village with many development projects, a school, clinic, market and almost everything close by,” but there is close to nothing within the settlement that is within walking distance.

When the UNHCR’s office in Kenya heard of this story, communications director Yvonne Ndege had a drastically different description of what life was like residents of Kalobeyei saying that the town was in fact not built in a remote area and had markets, water tanks and primary schools on-site, as well as stating that “there is no heightened security situation or security threat at Kalobeyei or Kakuma.” She went on to explain that refugees had the option to visit the camp before relocating and that perhaps they “may have had different expectations,” despite having viewed Kalobeyei in advance.

Whatever the case may be, it is wise to be empathetic and understanding toward refugees in Kenya when it comes to these situations—having to relocate yourself and your family is never easy, and struggling in a new environment does not make anything less difficult. Hopefully, the UNHCR will empathize and refugees in Kenya will be able to resolve and overcome the issues with Kalobeyei, for the town is meant to only do good.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr

Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen
While mostly unknown to American audiences, Chinese actress, activist, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen is one of the most influential celebrities in China and arguably in the world. Her Goodwill Ambassadorship was recently renewed for her tireless efforts on behalf of displaced persons.

The daughter of a train driver and a postal worker, Yao Chen rose to prominence as one of China’s greatest contemporary actresses, with roles ranging from action flicks to rom-coms. Her popularity extends to social media, specifically Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) where she has more followers than the population of the United Kingdom.

Chen began working with the UNHCR in 2010 before officially becoming Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen in 2013. She joined the UNHCR on multiple field visits to refugee host nations, including the Philippines, Thailand, Ethiopia, Lebanon and Pakistan. In these visits, she has met with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Myanmar.

“I am deeply touched by how refugees keep their dignity and how poverty does not destroy their kindness.” Chen said.

As the first Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Chen used her influence by bringing attention to refugee issues to the Chinese-speaking world.

And she has had impressive results. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of donations to UNHCR from mainland China tripled.

Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen earned international acclaim for her work on behalf of refugees and for her efforts addressing domestic issues in China.

Forbes magazine deemed the 37-year-old actress “China’s Angelina Jolie” and placed her on their list of the world’s most powerful women. She was also one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi renewed Chen’s ambassadorship for two more years during his inaugural visit to China. Grandi discussed China’s ability to assist displaced persons through South-South Cooperation, a collaborative action among countries of the South. He also spoke about the Chinese government’s “One Belt One Road” Initiative, a controversial $5 trillion spending plan in infrastructure across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

In the next two years, Goodwill Ambassador Yao Chen will continue advocating for refugees by highlighting issues they face and making their plight seem less distant to the Chinese people. In Chen’s own words, “In this global village, we are all connected and inter-dependent in one way or another.”

(Here is another reason to love Yao Chen. Her nickname for her son is Xiao Tudou, which translates to “little potato.”)

Sean Newhouse

Photo: Google